Ep 25 | Charlie Fremantle - Studio Manager (World Famous Ealing Studios)

Credit: Ealing Studios


Note: Please be aware this transcript is generated by AI, there will be small inconsistencies with the published podcast.

Mike: 0:00 Hi Guys, Mike here. Today's guest is our first professional from the world of film studios. We discuss how he got started in the business in advertising with Americans bringing over tins full of cash for shoots in the 80s how he had to find dancing elephants for shoots, falling in and out of the industry, the importance of hustling for jobs, his advice on setting up a production company, what a studio manager actually does, and how he had to ankle grind 1000s of pounds worth of door to pieces in one of the worst moments of his career. That's enough for me, let's get to the episode.

Charlie: 0:33 You were literally zooming around the country in a car going into Pinewood in the days when you could and just walking around and seeing you know, the Batmobile or the Batman set and everyone was lovely well they still are but it was very much more much more of a of an open house.

Mike: 0:49 Hello, and welcome to Red Carpet rookies. My name is Mike battle, a screenwriter and production team member working for Studios in London. Each episode I bring you advice and stories from film and TV professionals to help educate and empower the next generation of filmmakers and crew. Thanks for joining me. Let's get started. Today's guest is a first for the show. With a varied career that spanned both post production, advertising and production company management. He sits today as the studio manager of the world's oldest film studio at Ealing in London homes historic productions such as 1955 as the Ladykillers, as well as more recent fare like Oscar winning darkest hour, Shaun of the Dead. And of course, Downton Abbey. Our guests is Charlie Fremantle. How're you doing today?

Charlie: 1:41 Hi Mike, thank you. Great to see you again. It's all good.

Mike: 1:47 Good to see you at now I actually know that you're a listener of the show. So you'll know that my first question is always the same. What did your parents do? And did that change your career aspirations moving forward?

Charlie: 1:57 No, my parents were completely the opposite of what I do. My father was Army and industry as well as his dad. And my mum, I hate that word was housewife. She looked after us and did what she did. Yeah, completely different to what I do. He was desperate for me to go into the military. I wasn't so keen. I love the idea of it. But the idea of having been a boarding school for nine years, and then going back into some kind of institutionalised environment just didn't appeal. So no, yeah, I did a total opposite of what they wanted me to do. Once they found on the path I was kind of going towards, which was more of the artistic route. They were very supportive.

Mike: 2:46 So did you ever have to sort of come out to your dad and say, I want to work in the arts?

Charlie: 2:50 No, I'll be quite honest. I was hopeless at school. I was I failed everything and hadn't got a clue what to do. I think my parents were tearing their hair out. And I got an opportunity through somebody we knew who introduced me to a, oh, no, sorry, I'm going back in time. I was always keen on drawing and painting of school, and never took it seriously. And we went for an interview at an art college in London. And the principal said, Gosh, there's something there comes into come into a foundation course for so many days a week, providing you study for more Oh levels, you know, the other two days a week, which I did. And then I reached out to courts again, full time having done all that. And I stayed and did a degree or diploma as I was in fine art, City and Guilds. And that was a fascinating experience. It just taught you a lot of how to look at things really have to look, draw what you've seen, not what you know, you know, it's a really good piece of advice.

Mike: 3:56 And what was it that you were aspiring to at that point? Did you not really know? Were you trying to be a painter?

Charlie: 4:01 No, that was a sad thing I had I had ideas of how I wanted to paint, but I just wasn't good enough. I'll be brutally honest. I enjoyed it. Okay, I really enjoyed it. But I wasn't good enough to be an artist. But I think it was more to get a more of a life experience. Learn something and then say right, what am I going to do after this? So yeah, and then I kind of got an intro to hammer home economist who was doing food for for photographic shoots. And in the same building was film production company and they wanted a runner and I thought that sounds interesting. I liked them. They were nice people and so that's how I got started in this industry.

Mike: 4:44 Did they interview you? How was the process was it just because you knew them through the job?

Charlie: 4:48 Well, it was kind of strange because the the photographer and they were that were in the same building on the same floor. So sharing a floor in the same building. I was always, you know, it was a very small building. So we're always seeing each other and chatting. And I think they just said, Look, you know, when their pa left, they said that we need someone to step in and just, Hello, are you interested? And I went, Yeah. Love it. I love the idea of that.

Mike: 5:13 And what were your memories of that because the film industry for being a runner is famously quite difficult, arguably more difficult, the more years back, you go, what are your memories of it?

Charlie: 5:23 It was in the 80s, mid 80s. And my memories were Americans coming over doing huge shoots with literally 10 cases full of cash. And, you know, just proper jobs, or proper advertising budgets, doing big jobs. And the most one, the ones that really stuck in my mind, we did one for the American Marine Corps. And I was, it was it was a first class travel, double bedroom for single occupancy. I mean, it was unbelievable, and I was early 20s. And you were just on these incredible shoots, on a location with amazing people just being amongst the sort of everything, it was just special effects, tonnes of extras, lots of shiny care. And it was it was hard, it was cold, it was where you were outside, but you treated as an adult to a degree and it was just, I loved it. I loved being around that whole kind of buzz and the environment of it. That's what stuck with me and, and fax machines, you get a script from an advertising agency that come in on a fax. You know, if it wasn't open on a tropical beach, it would be something else. And you just go Oh, and what I really enjoyed actually was actually doing the research. And one time it was all Charlie, can you find us a dancing elephant? It was sort of beer commercial. And I went, Yeah, I'll do that. And there was I think you'd have the knowledge, the knowledge directory thing, that was the Bible at the time, asshole, putting up some animal people and ring three of them up, and they all seem to have a dancing elephant. And then after a while, it's suddenly two weeks ago, hang on a minute. And it's the same elephant is called bully the elephant. And it was actually owned, I think by Jim Chipperfield, where you kind of go, he's an art I need to speak to not these other guys. But those were the kinds of things that I loved. It was just seeing facts come through and then seeing it be created. And all the processes went with it.

Mike: 7:23 And then what led to you sort of falling out of the industry almost because you ended up having a random spate of of jobs, didn't you? And lifts and things like that? Did you almost feel like you kind of how did you fall out? And then how did you get back in I guess.

Charlie: 7:36 I was with the commercials company for about two years. And you know, I needed to move on at the time. And it's gonna sound like the wrong thing to say, but to be a PA at the time. Most pas were female and had excellent typing skills, of which I was neither. So I did a typing course, you know, just try and learn a bit. It just wasn't happening because it was a very much a very female dominated sector of the market. I did loads and loads of hideous odd jobs and worked on building sites. So Ganga has made high, putting Steel's for lift shafts, worse for catering companies in the evenings. And it was hard. But again, all those things Oh, shifting rubbish at County Hall, that was a good one. But you just learn to deal with just really different types of people in different environments. And I think that's been a really major learning curves, dealing with people working with people from all types of all areas of life. Anyway, after I did all those. That's right. It was Kay's directory. And I hustled like a beast to get there. And I got the job with Bernard or for burn it. And again, that is amazing. So right here's your car is an order form. That's your territory off you go. And you've literally flying around the country in a car going into Pinewood when the days when you could, and just walking around and seeing, you know, the Batmobile or the Batman set, and everyone was lovely. And it was what they still are, but it was very much more much more of a of an open house. So I got in back through doing sales and worked at EMA selling advertising space, which was a really, you know, that was a good experience. Just, again, cold calling people and being taught how to cold call people on telephone, which is terrifying, but it's a good experience you learn you know how to deal with rejection. And a lot of people I find that you cannot pick up the phone to a stranger and make a call.

Mike: 9:40 Yeah, I find that most people in the film industry are better than the general populace, because it's just so fast. You've got to get that thing now I spend a lot of time on the phone. But I was gonna say that after that sort of patchwork of jobs, you know, moving through learning sales with the case diary. One of the things I wanted to ask about is you found yourself with your own production company and then also setting them up for others here and there. I'm aware this is a big question. So take it however. Yeah. But how does one set up a production company? Because I know quite a few people who want to do it. And it's seems very difficult, more difficult than the number of people who want to do.

Charlie: 10:16 Well, I my background was, at that time I was in sales. I had, there was a chap I was introduced to called, called Gab, and gab had a music video, really good midview music video production company. And he had a mate called Andy. And Andy was a producer, commercials producer, and we all kind of got together and we all thought, hang on a minute, you know, and he's a producer, I hustle. Gabs got the space and we all chucked in, I think it was five grand each and said, Let's start up a company commercial, a production company. And I we thought, okay, well, we're gonna need directors. So how do we do that? And he knew a couple. I knew some sort of directors from my days in post production, because it was designed post production. And they done music videos and commercials, and no one was representing them. So I thought, Okay, well, I'll tell you what, I'll take a real punt. I'm going to fly to New York. I'll take some show reels with me. I didn't know anybody in New York. So I just rang up random production companies from New York. So I'm coming out. I just want to see whether you know, you're interested in English, English directing talent. They went, yeah. So a time for a week, came back. And about three weeks later, I got a box of about 32 u Matic tapes. Do you remember them? No. There they were pneumatics were basically cassette tapes, about half the size of a cereal packet, which directors put their show wheels on. They were huge. But that was a that was a standard format at the time. And so I got a box of these with different directors on them from one of the people I've met in New York to look, take a pic represent any of these you like, and one of them was a guy called Tom Schiller, who was a one of the original writers of Saturday Night Live. And Tom's reels, just very, very different. Very funny. And it was just perfect. It was it was it just hit the market at the right time. It was it was quirky American comedy. And it was exactly what the commercials industry was looking for at that time. And we just did really well with Tom we flew him in and some great games with Tom. And that's how it sort of started. And I was we were up in Kensal rise, cancel studios for about couple of years. And then I moved it to Soho. We had an office in SoHo in Broadwick Street, and being sort of a couple that m&e had gone. Gab was on the sort of back burner. And I thought, well, I'm more or less a one man band. It's a tough market. You know, the the American director thing had kind of, they got bigger and better. And I was just a tiny fish in a big pond. And I thought I think it's time I'm going to quit while I'm ahead.

Mike: 13:10 Are there any sort of common pitfalls you saw when people will start up production companies from your time doing it?

Charlie: 13:23 I think most people who do it do it properly have a director, producer team. And they've already got tech clients under their belt so they can just hit the ground running.

Mike: 13:34 So after your years in production company world you became a film studio manager ultimately was what you do now, could you describe what that job entails? For the uninitiated?

Charlie: 13:43 Everything, everything I've learned in my careers is I think it's wrapped up in this role. It's part sales as part of psychologist. It's part of fortune teller, it's organiser shedule ng budgeting, managing people, which is what it really is. And basically making shit happen. What we do as the healing is we have multiples of rooms of different sizes, and stages of different sizes. And my role is ultimately to fill all of those spaces all of the time with productions and people and make sure that those productions are people are happy. And everything works. You know, in their time, ideally, that's really boiling it down, I think to brass tacks and obviously making you know, yeah, that's what it is.

Mike: 14:37 Yeah, I feel like this is gonna be hard for you to answer but if anyone listening to this did want to get into studio management, is there any sort of path at all I know yours is obviously pinballing around but there are other studios around the mall like Warner Brothers where it might be a bit more of a ladder or something.

Charlie: 14:53 I don't think there was a path. I don't know of it. I think there are very few of us. A handful of us. Maybe Am I no one she was in post production? I think before she did hers, she was in studio management. And I think it's about being this is a people business. And I think if you've got people skills, which I'd like to think I have some, some, some may disagree. But I think if you can deal with people, and you can, you can shedule things, and just, you can think on the hoof and, you know, manage space. That's it, really. But also, actually, I do think you need to have an end and a knowledge of the industry. That does help, because then it means it means you can talk to people about their industry. And it just makes conversation easier. And if I come from selling bottles, Johnnie Walker, either you wouldn't have so what do you know? Nothing.

Mike: 15:54 It sounds like something that comes out from just being in and around it all. And sometimes there's there's such random jobs that when one opens, you have to be in a facility for it to happen really aren't there?

Charlie: 16:04 Yeah, I mean, for example, I mean, I got into this business, by total accident, or into this side of it. I was in a really, really good, so engineering, company making dough making colour grading systems. And I felt that my time there had come to an end. I was at home literally writing my CV, because even I loved working there. I just thought I can't add any more. I can't give them any value. And I felt guilty. I just I can't, I can't, you know, just sitting I can't just sit and pretend. Because I don't speak colour grading if I'm brutally honest. I just I'm not techie. And I needed to move on. I got a call, funnily enough, from Bernard K case, who I worked for many years ago and said, um, I know somebody who's got a studio in West London, they're looking for someone to do the marketing for it. Do you know anyone who's interested and I went, actually, I think I might be. Anyway, I met the owner. And he had this place that he didn't really know what to do with it had been empty for years. But he I think he wanted to turn it back into a studio but didn't know how to do it. And I think there's an element of trust, he trusted me. I said, I'm willing to give it a go. I walked in on the first day, I thought, What the hell am I doing? I hadn't got a clue. But but just by, you know, listening to people, producers who came in and said, you could turn these rooms into the dressing rooms, or what you need is this, or you should do that. And you kind of get a lot of information that you take a view on and you go Oh, actually, that's really interesting. And you just learn, you just kind of use a bit of common sense and get a feel for the place. And that's how that started.

Mike: 17:44 In terms of problems that you deal with, does it change much from project to project? So for example, Downton is obviously at one end, but then you had last night in Soho at Ealing recently, is it quite different? Or the problems similar? What do they kind of look like?

Charlie: 17:56 Productions tend to be the same. Similar. There are disasters, there was one I had not here. It's one of the I have two low points in my career and isn't one of them. It was a rock and roll musical. had rigged up a 40 foot truck with an entire rock and roll rig on it. And they came into rehearse because they were out on the road the next day to do some promotional stuff in the streets. So they reversed this massive track into the stage. And it was all great. And they said we need to be at 630 Not a problem. And the time came and the new roller shutters that we had had put in on the stage failed. They didn't open, nothing would open and the engineers were up in the north. And we were basically screwed and for what the hell are we going to do? That reducer was down my neck saying that you've got a quarter million quids worth of stuff here. And if I'm not on the road, you're liable for this. You just start sweating and go. Okay, what on earth can we do and there was nothing we could do? Absolutely nothing. We tried everything. The only option angle grinder get an angle grinder and cut a brand new door in half and get the truck out. That's what he could do.

Mike: 19:20Sounds expensive.

Charlie: 19:22 It was fairly spenny. You have to make those decisions. And that was a pretty harsh one. I mean, that was you know, that wasn't easy.

Mike: 19:32 That's a biggie. London is obviously in the middle. And I guess the UK generally, but particularly London is in the middle of this huge content boom, which is obviously affecting you as a studio manager in Ealing. How is What's your stance on that? How's it affecting you? It's overwhelming really, isn't it?

Charlie: 19:49 Yeah, it's changed massively. I mean, I've been here five years which is frightening. And when I started which was 2017 We had a huge amount of shows coming in, you know, in the course of a year for whether it be a day to do some reshoots, a week, two weeks, three weeks, we I mean, it was incredible looking at the list of stuff I had in. And it was great. It was absolutely insane. I mean, you just literally just didn't stop. And then there was a turn when production came in, and they wanted all of the stages for sort of eight months, and you go, Oh, my God, this is unheard of. And it hasn't changed. You know, it's kind of been, it's been relentless, which is a fantastic position to be. And it's been really good for us. But there has been a huge change. And it's just looking at all the inquiries you get in and it's trying to get those pieces of the jigsaw to fit. It's like a game of Tetris with different sized pieces falling at different rates, and you're desperately trying to make them all, you know, all level out. That's how it's been.

Mike: 20:58 Now, to wrap it up, I do a little quick fire questionnaire, as you know, which is my Ode to any actor studio. So I'm just going to say the first question and think of whatever comes into your head. Are you ready, Charlie? Fremantle. Oh, yeah, fire away. So number one is what is one of the best pieces of advice you've ever been given?

Charlie: 21:14 Don't be afraid to ask questions .

Mike: 21:17 I definitely employ that one. Number two, do you have a favourite film?

Charlie: 21:21 Casino. Love it.

Mike: 21:25 Number three, what gives you a reason to get out of bed every day for a day of studio life?

Charlie: 21:29 To make stuff happen. Get stuff done. I like doing. Yeah,

Mike: 21:34 Very good. Number four, which job in the industry would you do if you weren't doing yours?

Charlie:  21:42 I think it'd be something in the art department.

Mike: 21:44 Yeah, go back to those art roots.

Charlie: 21:46 Yeah, I'm not sure what that I think it would be something in the art department.

Mike: 21:49 Cool. Number five, if you could, this is a hard one. If you could work with one person living or dead? Who would it be?

Charlie: 21:54 A bit corny, but I think it would be my grandfather.

Mike: 21:57 Okay, that's an interesting answer. I like that. We haven't had that before. Number six. What is a book that everyone should read?

Charlie: 22:05 The kid stays in the picture by Robert Evans,

Mike: 22:06 I think I'll have that on my shelf behind me.

Charlie: 22:09 Yes, staggering. You just think I can't even believe this is real. Yeah. But you know, the good old bad old days of the 60s and 70s at Paramount. Scott. Oh, my God.

Mike: 22:18 Great answer. We haven't had that before. And finally, if you want an Oscar, who would you thank?

Charlie: 22:24 Anyone who's given me a chance.

Mike: 22:26 Brilliant. And on that note, our time has come to a close. Thank you very much, Charlie, for your insights and stories on the mysterious world of running a film studio.

Charlie: 22:32 Thank you, Mike. I hope it's been relatively informative. But thank you very much. It's been a pleasure.

Mike: 22:41 Thank you for listening to another episode of red carpet rookies to help us grow and be able to interview more amazing film and TV professionals. Please do subscribe and drop us a rating on the Apple podcast store on your iPhone, or online if you're an Android user. If you're interested in regular updates, the best thing you can do is join our mailing list at red carpet rookies.com. Alternatively, find us on Instagram at Red Carpet rookies or on Twitter at RC rookies pod. I also tweet regularly about my own learnings in the business at Mike battle on Twitter. So please do come and say hi, thank you again for listening. We'll see you next time.